Kansas City-area students joined their peers from across the country on Friday, rallying to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the Columbine massacre and pay tribute to other victims of mass shootings.
Students left their schools and made their way to a rally in Midtown's Hyde Park, where students from 10 high schools organized the rally to coincide with the walkouts. It attracted about 150 people. Although that fell short of their goal of 500, the teen organizers said they were glad they got to connect with students from other schools.
“It started out with just a few people, and we all got in contact with students from other schools, and it became a citywide thing,” said Erin Lowe, a senior at Pembroke Hill. “It’s been wonderful. We’ve had meetings, we have group chats, we talk all the time. It’s been more than just starting this movement. We’ve fostered so much interconnectivity from schools around the city.”
Center High School senior Kiwi Kiwanda had the task of informing the crowd that there had been another school shooting that morning in Ocala, Florida.
“It pains me to say this,” Kiwanda said to a chorus of boos. “There was one person injured. The person is in custody, and they have been stopped.”
Sydney Messick, a sophomore at Bishop Miege High School, said she and her peers, all of whom were born after Columbine, don’t remember a time before school shootings.
“It’s really upsetting. We don’t know anything else. For us, this is a normal thing that happens. You kind of expect it,” Messick said. “I want to at least be able to say that in high school, I attempted to make a change and make things better.”
Erin Gingrinch-Gaylord, an organizer with Moms Demand Action, a gun violence prevention group formed after the deadly elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2013, told the teens who turned up Friday that she wishes her generation had done what they’re doing.
“I remember watching the Columbine shooting on TV when I was in high school,” she said. “I’m sorry I did not act the way you are acting to save lives.”
In the northland, it was the second walkout Kaylie Scott had participated in. A sophomore at Oak Park High School, Scott said a friend of her cousin attends Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 people in February.
“She’s terrified to go to school and now I am too, because last year we had a bomb threat, and that was scary. I feel like there’s no safety,” Scott said outside Oak Park shortly after 10 a.m. Friday.
She said she worries about students sneaking out of school through side doors in the middle of the day and coming back without checking in through the attendance office.
Fewer Oak Park students walked out Friday than left school last month in honor of the Parkland victims. During that walkout, students rallied just outside the school for 17 minutes before returning to their classrooms. This time, students marched past the football field to a nearby park.
Scott said her own feelings about gun control are complicated. Every fall, she hunts with her family and helps put up the meat they’re going to eat that winter.
“I do believe we should put more control on who buys guns and how we get them because there should be no reason why a 17- or 18-year-old has a gun or access to one,” Scott said.
Most Oak Park students returned to class after the walkout, and there would be no punishment for students exercising their First Amendment rights, Principal Chris Sartain said.
Katy Thomas, a sophomore at Staley High School in the Northland, wore orange in honor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas victims. She said she’d rather see stricter gun control than policies like the ones adopted in the immediate aftermath of the Florida shooting, like making students carry clear backpacks.
“The clear backpack measure is our right to privacy with everyone being able to see into your backpack. But you know, metal detectors. I would be in favor of those,” Thomas said.
Anna Yakutenko contributed to this report. Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.